Summary: We're going to focus on getting to Beta by June 30, 2010, so we have to impose restrictions on "fun stuff" for a while. That's it. The below is just details for those who are interested in that sort of thing or those with nothing better to do.
If you're familiar with my work, and if you've played the game you will be, you'll know this post is going to be long and waffly and potentially quite dull, with occasional gems of information (and possibly humour - Americans read "humor") hidden deep inside
Some may find it surprising, but it takes an unbelievable amount of time and effort to put together a game like this, especially with almost no money and a very small group of part-time volunteers spread across multiple timezones. I suspect many people think we just sort-of copy/paste vague ideas into some awesome auto-game-making software and it just does everything for us, but that's actually not the case.
There are more than 1,000 graphic elements, hundreds of thousands of words and a whole stack of complicated and intricate mechanics, tied together by well over a million lines of code and a reasonably complex database schema. None of this is a matter of just copying and pasting either. Every single word, image, line of code etc. needs to be thought about in detail to ensure it's mechanically sound, secure, functional, free from silly typos and contains plenty of bum jokes. Really, you'd be amazed just how much work is required even to implement a single item in the game, let alone a stack of zones, multiple encounters, multiple-multiple items etc. etc. etc.
On top of all that, there's the incidental "Administrative Overhead" that goes on daily, just to keep the game running. We're talking about things like monitoring/maintaining servers, taking backups, dealing with forums, handling player disputes, even just trying to maintain a presence in chat etc.
What we've discovered over the past couple of years is that things like holidays, while they're fun and provide instant gratification, are an incredible distraction. Take Yule, for example. From initial concept, through planning, writing, drawing, coding, testing and implementation took 5 weeks, and the Yule content was actually *relatively* simple. The holopet introduced a couple of new mechanics that held us up for a couple of days, but in general it was just creating a bunch of new items using code we've used before.
Of course, this could all be done much more quickly if we were a full-time, professional games development company, with all the time and money in the world and no other commitments to distract us (families, paid jobs etc.) but we don't have that luxury, so all we can do is work as hard as we can in the time we have available, and try not to go mad doing it, which is hard since we're all half-mad anyway (optimists, please read "half-sane").
Now, the Paradox Dev Team is committed to getting this game to the Beta stage as soon as possible. We currently have a target date of June 30, 2010 for the Beta release, which includes all the work required to get it there, and a decent amount of Alpha testing and bugfixing/tweaking. This is going to be quite a massive exercise and its success assumes that nothing (or very little) goes wrong, and that we don't get distracted by anything else.
Basically what I'm saying is that, for us to have any chance at all of meeting the deadline (and we really do need to meet it so we can move on), we need to give up a couple of things for a little while. Obviously, the administrative stuff has to stay, but anything else that doesn't actually do anything to help get the game to Beta will be placed firmly on the back burner, and by which I mean it will be taken right off the stove and locked away in a disused toilet until such time as either we hit Beta or we genuinely have time to do it without it having a negative impact on Beta.
If we don't do this, then either Beta will be late, or it will be shoddy. Well, it won't be shoddy, because we wouldn't put the Beta label on anything that's not been fully Alpha tested. So it will be late. Which none of us really wants.
So, what does that ACTUALLY mean?
Well, new holidays are right out, as are major changes to existing holidays. We had discussed a revamped Easter, additional Valentine's Day content, some St Paddy's Day fun and possibly more. That's going to have to wait until AFTER we reach Beta. Will we repeat last year's Easter content? We're not ruling it out. We know it's not as fun as a whole new and exciting chunk of content, and we imagine some collectors/traders are going to be miffed, but really, is a couple of days of frivolity worth a 3-5 week additional delay on Beta, per holiday? That's rhetorical. Anyone who said "yes, it is" will be soundly ignored.
Actually, think about this for a minute. If there are three "special content" holidays between now and June, and each one takes 4 weeks to plan, write, code, test etc. then that's a total of 12 weeks gone out of the 25 weeks available to us. Almost half the time we have available gone just for a few days worth of fun. Not worth it, is it? Also rhetorical.
Limited Edition Items will also be affected to a greater or lesser degree. That doesn't mean there won't be any, but we'll be favouring simplicity over complexity for obvious reasons. December's LEI wasn't too bad, but it's still more complex than we need LEIs to be for a while. That item required multiple item descriptions, combat messages, use messages, graphics, database changes and a new mechanic and took just over a week from concept to implementation. Yeah, it's only a week, but it's a week where we couldn't do anything else of any significance. Multiply that by the four LEIs due for release between now and June 30, and suddenly there's another month's delay.
Other "frivolous" stuff. Basically, anything that we don't need to do in order to achieve Beta in time (that's "need" as in "necessary", not "need" as in "want") will most likely be either rejected or put aside for later.
We will continue to keep in contact, read the forums, fix bugs, and take on board suggestions as always, but we're going to try really hard to avoid getting distracted by anything that doesn't have any impact on Beta and we sincerely hope everyone understands why it's necessary for the game's long-term survival.